Driving results through citizen inclusion in strategic planning and execution in the public sector: citizens as experts
Palladium's Ahmed Benrekia describes new approaches to include citizens as part of the decision process.
The traditional approach to citizen engagement in the public sector involved either polling citizens on certain political issues or asking them for inputs on policies being developed or updated. Since the 90s, this traditional approach has been evolving towards a greater focus on engaging citizens in identifying issues and in participating in resolving these issues. With time, this trend is becoming more popular within government agencies. More innovative approaches are being designed and implemented to include citizens not only in program implementation but also in planning for growth.
Trends in citizen inclusion
- Urban governance In 1999, Baltimore City instituted a new style of management called CitiStat in order to make the city’s government more responsive, accountable and cost-effective. The program was designed to receive real time complaints from citizens; these complaints would be resolved within a targeted timeframe and results would be published to the public. This resulted in 97% of potholes being repaired within 48 hours from the time of notification, saving the city $13.2 million in first year. The program was also actively increasing the efficiency of other services being provided to the citizens. Following this success, similar programs have been enhanced and implemented in Christchurch, Boston, Jakarta, Riyadh and Dubai, to mention a few.
- Co-created public sector innovation The government of Finland has recently decided to implement a program called “Place to Experiment” in which the goal is to shift the method of developing public services from a top-down dictated process to a more co-created (in some cases even crowdsourced or crowdfunded) process for public sector innovation, and in this way to help redefine citizen-government boundaries in the country. This program enabled the Finnish government to solve social problems, gain public trust, increase citizen engagement, and ultimately increase the efficiency, effectiveness and quality of policies and services provided to the citizens.
- Public space planning Popular programs for citizen inclusion are widely used in public space planning. The “Adopt a Plot” initiative in New Castle, United Kingdom, for example, is a citywide scheme allowing individuals or groups of neighbours to manage and maintain a piece of council-owned land. Another example is UN-Habitat asking youth to build their city using Minecraft, a video game that allows users to create 3D worlds.
- Open data initiatives In addition, countries such as USA, Canada, the UK, Singapore and UAE are utilizing data and technology to increase transparency, foster innovation and enable better decision-making for the citizens and businesses through their open data initiatives.
The next stage of citizen inclusion is imbedding the public in the cycle of planning and execution, and not limiting participation to certain stages of the cycle. Including the citizens in identifying key challenges in the sector, bringing them into the ideation stage, implementing programs/initiatives collaboratively, and enabling citizens to monitor services and provide continuous feedback will drive sustainable and cost-effective results for all. But this will only be successful if government agencies use an open and transparent approach to sustaining high levels of engagement and support from the citizens.
The strategic planning department or other relevant department within a government agency should first identify potential touch points or citizen inclusion injection points within their current planning and performance management framework and distribute the points equally throughout the different stages of the framework. The department should also consider this approach to be a two-way engagement or enablement mechanism, versus relying completely on the citizens to provide the solution.